Democracy is not a one-way street. Unhappy? Start talking about it.

The Center for Michigan released its most recent community conversation report this week, which evidenced some pretty extreme distrust of the public sector and public systems intended to work for the people of Michigan.

Michele Corey

Michele Corey is vice president for programs for Michigan’s Children, a public-policy advocacy group.

Of course, this result is heightened, and should be, by the tragedy in Flint, where there was such a horrendous failure of local, state and federal public systems that thousands of people were poisoned – the ramifications of which we will not truly know for years to come. And, we just lived through the kind of election season that I hope we never do again, with hateful, divisive rhetoric intended to divide the nation on economic, gender, racial and geographic lines.

Fortunately, the report also highlighted a need to help fix what we believe is wrong. Well, that’s the crux of it. We live in a democracy, a democracy where people are elected (or not), where laws are made and changed based on the will of the people. This democracy is our privilege and our (you’ve all heard me say it before) responsibility. We don’t have the luxury to just sit back, our system requires participation. All policy makers, including those we like or dislike, trust or don’t trust, decide things based on what they have heard, from their friends, from their constituents, from the people who take the time to talk to them about the things that concern them – not just once, but many times.

Yes, investments made with our hard earned tax dollars are not always made in the best interest of children, youth and families. That is true at the federal, state, county and municipal level. And our system requires that we do something about that.

Almost every elected official offers consistent opportunities to talk with them publicly, or via phone, email, snail mail, social media, etc. If you sign up for your elected officials’ electronic newsletters, you will get notice of their coffee hours – those times when they are at a local business or church, or somewhere else in their district just waiting to hear from their constituents. If the people we elect don’t know what we know and what we think they should do differently, how can we really blame them for decisions that we disagree with? How can we not trust them if we haven’t even talked with them?

We all need to make sure that we have done all that we can to make sure that our elected officials are well-informed, understand that their constituents are paying attention to what they are doing and that those same constituents are going to hold them accountable for those actions: in the media (read: letters to the editor); at the ballot box (read: attend candidate forums and vote); and elsewhere. Now is the time, when we feel the most frustrated about it, to act.

I know you have jobs, you have kids, you have lives. Still, take time to talk with your elected officials. Michigan’s Children can help. We can work with you to bring policymakers, youth and families together; we can help you with contact information and talking points.

We can all agree that our elected officials need help – they need help to earn back our trust, and they need help to make the kinds of decisions that we can be proud of. Let’s commit to helping them, and making things better for children, youth and families in Michigan. 

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Fri, 03/24/2017 - 1:51pm

Most likely if you communicate with an elected official you will get a "thank you for your concern" type of form letter or email and that will be the end of it whether they agree or disagree with what you are asking. Unless you have money or represent someone with money your concerns are not important.

Lola Johnson
Sun, 03/26/2017 - 9:51am

We should not be put off by the form letters. We should still call and write. They may or may not pay someone to actually read the letter all the way through, but we can keep it short. The letters are then put into a pile of "for" and "against". The same for phone calls. They are COUNTED. And what more can we ask than to have our opinion count? If many constituents share a view and the lawmaker ignores them, then vote him out. BUT DO NOT STOP PARTICIPATING.

duane
Sun, 03/26/2017 - 5:06pm

Lola,

I am one of those that sees the simple for or against a contributing factor to the extreme partisanship on issues. I feel it discourages focusing on results and creates a barriers to communication. My officials only want to know which side I am on not what I think or the ideas I might have.

I would encourage people talking about the desired results, offering ideas to achieve those desired results, and encouraging elected official drawing on their constituents for results expectations, for participation, for ideas/means/methods.

The 'Community Conversations' have the potential for encouraging participation, for developing new ideas, even in clarifying desire results and the means to measure the results, and yet those 'Conversations' follows the 'for' or 'against' approach, it distills all the participants thinking down to a number on each topic the sponsors select. It allows elected officials see the participation as nothing more than a number from another group. The latest is do we [the public] trust or distrust whose in office, how do that move anything, how does that encourage conversations, how does that change anything. Has anyone compiling this type of statistics ever consider how this backs the people they are scoring react? Have they even thought about how difficult is it to listen when one is being told they are distrusted and they are offered no ideas about how to establish that trust. That is how 'for' and 'against' works.

The reality is that we need to move elected officials away from picking a side, to their asking for help from their constituents and listening to what they say, so the officials have an array of ideas that are results focus rather and the picking sides, being partisan and focus on power.

duane
Fri, 03/24/2017 - 9:27pm

Ms. Corey says something everyone agrees with, especially those at either end of the political spectrum. The difference is too many only want it done their way and for the public to give them the power to do it their way.

If Ms. Corey truly wants to change the results she needs to engage people in talking about why they aren't participating, why they are discourage from participating, how would they like to participate, how they think those serving in our representative government can be aided in being more results oriented than oriented process. The reality is that that takes more effort then simply writing an article, it starts by asking and listening to those who you doubt, who you feel should be doing more, or doing things differently.

So many of those that reject the 'hateful' speak lack an understanding how you to end it. I can assure you that the people spout off/yell how much they want it to end and they want other people such as the government to end it, the more they are turning it into a political tool for those seeking power, and the more of hate speech we will get. Rather then shouting they are against it, people should be talking to those who use it and ask why, those who think it significantly diminished and ask why, to those who want others to end it and ask why, talking to people that have ended in for themselves and ask why. Consider all the hate speech claims we heard by about a Presidential candidate, about recent Presidential orders , why do you think they were saying that rather looking for action to verify it, why were they making claims that the voters in enough states didn't believe them? Ms. Corey has the best of intentions, but she is chained to a past that has been failing change it so I doubt she is open to considering a different approach.

Whether it be participation or hate speech, one step could be for a single community to begin the conversations [with the majority of people] about the why and how, of lack of participation or what others are saying, and then look at their community and begin to address what they learn about themselves and from others about those others. If it works then the first candle of light in the darkness will be lit so others can see.

If you want change you need to let go of the past, you need to have a conversation with people having diverse perspectives, you need to focus on the future and expect individuals to make the changes happen.

I believe in the results Ms. Corey wants to happen, I doubt she knows that the current means and methods are failing and will continue to fail to change anything.

What saddens me is that for these issues or any of the other issue we read about on Bridge there is no means or methods available on or off Bridge to encourage conversations beyond the comment section of any article.

Bridge is committed to informing readers, but if Bridge wants to see change happen it needs to help readers become engage with each other and become a spark of new/innovative ideas, new energy, a new point of light. The flaw in this is that it is a break with the past and the stereotypical thing.

Strip away Ms. Corey's the issues are still worth the effort to address and have an open and structure conversation about, but there is no opportunity to do that, or opportunity that Bridge offer to that, at least that I am aware of or that.

Liane McGhee
Sun, 03/26/2017 - 8:40am

Unfortunately we have so-called representatives like Jack Bergman, who refuse to have town halls and meet with their constituents, erect barriers around their local offices, think a tele-conference meets the needs of us to try and actually get to know him, and duck in and out of back doors at paid public events so he doesn't have to meet us. When we write to him, we get back a form letter that obfuscates and doesn't answer our questions. He has the gall to address us as "Dear Friend". If someone wants to call me friend, they have to take the time to get to know me and earn my respect and trust. Mr. Bergman can't be bothered to do either.
I will continue to call, write , and show up at events. Bergman's lack of courage and hiding from his constituents are a disgrace to all veterans and a slap in the face to us. We are mothers & fathers, grandparents, neighbors, and hard-working members of our communities who love our country and this beautiful northern Michigan area. Why is Bergman refusing to even try to actually get to know the people he is supposed to be representing?
I urge everyone to get and stay involved. Especially make phone calls and write your local papers. Join a group- there's strength in numbers. Find a local Indivisible group. They have great info and resources on ways to be effective and make your voice heard.

Rich
Sun, 03/26/2017 - 5:21pm

I find that my federal representative is communicating with me to my complete satisfaction. Every week I get an e-mail about the issues and votes of the week and how and why he feels about those. Not so with my two federal senators, who give out the same lame feel good message that tells me nothing.

Our feelings on communication with politicians and trust are truly influenced by our political leaning. I feel the state legislators are doing a great job while someone else may think they care zero about what that person thinks.

We each have a very distinct point of view.

Tina
Thu, 03/30/2017 - 7:33am

Sorry Rich, I have had the exact opposite experience. The two federal senators are quick to respond to my questions or concerns. My federal congressman refuses to meet or talk, all I receive is one of those form letters. I have mixed results with my local state representative. One has two coffee hours a month, the other has no public meetings and when you look at his calendar all of his speaking engagements are groups that follow his narrow thinking (though I must say his staff has always been well informed and pleasant when I call).